As former chancellor Dirks steps away, he leaves behind an unremarkable environmental legacy. Students rightfully demanded more sustainable practices from the school while relying upon several devoted administrators, but Dirks largely remained silent on these issues, leaving us without an advocate in the highest office on campus.
Chancellor Christ has a powerful opportunity to become the champion that helps the campus rise to its potential as a global and national sustainability leader, especially at this critical time. Students have already created and passionately operate robust sustainability movements. Chancellor Christ only needs to join them:
Divestment from fossil fuels
UC Berkeley’s students and faculty have overwhelmingly supported withdrawal from investments in fossil fuel companies. Faculty members have written op-eds, signed letters and passed a unified call for divestment via the UC Berkeley Faculty Association. Students have passed ballot measures and multiple student government resolutions, collected thousands of signatures in support, staged several large sit-ins, held rallies and testified at many UC Regents meetings.
So far, four chancellors across the UC System have signed letters urging the UC’s Chief Investment Officer to divest from fossil fuels. By joining them, Chancellor Christ would recognize the wide base in favor of divestment, communicate UC Berkeley’s commitment to environmental justice, and perhaps even inspire the other Chancellors to follow suit in UC-wide solidarity.
Two years ago, environmentalists of color on campus formed the Students of Color Environmental Collective, or SCEC, to deal with the marginalization they experience, and find welcoming community that centers them, unlike the College of Natural Resources and the broader environmental community.
In order to recognize and begin addressing environmental racism on campus, Chancellor Christ can work with SCEC and the College of Natural Resources administration to diversify CNR’s faculty. However, the problems in CNR and the broader environmental movement reflect a larger problem in the UC system: that it does not provide enough support for people of color in general. As a part of being a sustainability champion, the chancellor should prioritize diversity and direct resources toward basic needs security and expanding spaces for people of color.
A commitment to carbon neutrality and 100 percent renewable energy
As global climate change takes its toll, the UC system has stepped up its commitment to energy sustainability. In 2013, the UC system pledged carbon neutrality by 2025 — the most ambitious goal by any system as large as ours. So far, UC Berkeley staff have successfully worked to reduce indirect emissions and increase energy efficiency. By far the largest source of emissions on the Berkeley campus, however, comes from our cogeneration plant, which burns natural gas to produce electricity and steam.
In order to reach our climate goals, it is essential that UC Berkeley does everything it can to transition away from the cogeneration plant towards renewable energy. As this is a long-term goal, the chancellor’s commitment to this is imperative. Right now, the chancellor can sign a commitment to 100 percent renewable electricity, to show that UC Berkeley is willing to prioritize energy sustainability.
When the Housing Master Plan Task Force Report this year cited the Oxford Tract as a spot for housing development, the communities relying on that land were thrown under threat. The Oxford Tract serves as a research center home to several greenhouses, agricultural fields, and the Student Organic Garden Association, which feeds and educates students and the local community.
Though expansion of housing is critically important, it makes no sense to expand enrollment (putting more pressure on an already burdened system) and then use that pressure as an excuse to displace existing research and people. The chancellor can help protect the Oxford Tract by demanding a freeze on enrollment expansion until the campus can house the students it already admits. In the meantime, the chancellor can commit to protecting the services that have grown out of the Oxford Tract, and must seriously consider the many alternative spaces for housing that do not displace valuable parts of campus.
The UC system has the bold goal of achieving “Zero Waste by 2020.” The staff tasked with working toward this goal, however, are stretched thin with limited funding. Yet, students and administrators have made strides forward despite these limitations, including pushing for zero waste certification in Connie & Kevin Chou Hall, educational campaigns, reuse initiatives and research projects.
Chancellor Christ has an opportunity to move the dial here by declaring zero waste a priority, as it has not been considered central to the operations of the campus. Across the board, sustainability departments and positions need more funding and zero waste specifically requires the money to improve our trash collection infrastructure. This investment has potential to pay off immensely, as the trash diversion will save the university money that it would have spent filling landfills.
Chancellor Christ can certainly take action for sustainability today. But whether she becomes a sustainability hero will be determined by a lasting commitment to supporting both student-based initiatives and administrators working towards sustainability. As someone involved in environmentalist movements on campus, I am very optimistic about our new chancellor and hope to work closely with her in the coming weeks and beyond.
Anna is a second-year urban studies major. She is a Carbon Neutrality Initiative Fellow, the chair of UC Berkeley’s 100% Renewable campaign, and a member of Fossil Free Cal.